FAIR FAMILY: Three generation, 33 fairs

July 31, 2001 12:00 am
From left are Eugene and Nicole Markgraf, white shirt, Alyssa Jacobs, Kay Markgraf, Danny Downing, Katy Jacobs and Gus Markgraf. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).
From left are Eugene and Nicole Markgraf, white shirt, Alyssa Jacobs, Kay Markgraf, Danny Downing, Katy Jacobs and Gus Markgraf. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).

By BRENNA KNOWLES

Of the Baker City Herald

The Markgraf family moved into the Baker Valley during fair weekend in August 1968 and have participated in the fair ever since.

And this year, they are they first-ever Baker County Fair Family.

Peter, better known as Gus, and Kay, their three children, Diana, Corinna and Bill and eight grandchildren have participated in just about every fair role available, ranging from fair manager to club leader to exhibitors of swine, sheep and horses and sewing and cooking projects.

The family was nominated by Mary Ellen Anderson in an essay contest sponsored by the Baker County Fair and the Baker City Herald.

Both Kay and Gus grew up in agricultural areas. Kay said they have always had a small farm as well as other jobs. She sees 4-H as a way for them to stay in touch with their agricultural background.

Gus worked as the Baker County fair manager and extension agent from 1968-1983.

Kay has worked in 4-H for over 20 years. She said she started out as a 4-H mother, then an assistant leader, then a leader. Kay also served as president of the Baker County 4-H Leaders Association.

Its really fun to reflect back, Gus said. To me it was a wonderful experience. I dont know about the kids, but it was great for me.

Kay said she has special memories from every year. Some are good and some are bad, she said, its all a part of learning.

Learning to lead and live

Kay said 4-H teaches children responsibility and gives them the chance to work side by side with their family in an adult situation.

Gus said, Projects baloney! The important thing is for the kids to gain experience and be able to think and respond, lose the jitters, remember what theyve been taught and do well in the interviews. Thats what life is all about its one big oral exam.

Kay said her daughters, Diana and Corinna, were involved in cooking, sewing, horse and sheep projects while her son Bill was the swine man.

The Markgraf daughters and son are still involved with the show.

Diana Downing compiles the buyers pictures for the Halfway and Baker fairs. She also buys the Shrine steer for the Baker County Cattlewomen and volunteers her time to haul market fair animals to LaGrande after the sale.

Corinna Jacobs is the leader of the Lower Powder Community 4-H Club. She is also the clerk for the photo committee at both the Baker and Halfway fairs.

Kay said the Jacobs family is also in charge of painting the yellow numbers on market animals for the auction.

Bill Markgraf makes the trophies for the tractor driving contest out of polished hardwood.

To Kay, 4-H is important for adult community members because Its good for the community to remember that agriculture is their basic food supply. Bonnie White, the fair coordinator, is really trying to bring that idea home this year. And even though we are an agricultural community, people forget.

Gus said he recently read an article which explored the educational methods of 4-H.

No matter the culture, or what part of the world or what religion, what works is parents and the kids working together. Volunteerism, that works. They learn and proceed, in 4-H and right on in life, he said.

The local Markgraf grandchildren Jason Jacobs, Katy Jacobs, Alyssa Jacobs, Eugene Markgraf, Nicole Markgraf and Danny Downing will participate in a myriad of fair projects this year, including sheep, swine, horse, sewing, cooking and the tractor driving contest.

Kay said another grandson, Mike Downing, lives in Portland but loves to come back for the fair week. Kay said he has helped as a runner by taking paperwork to the buyers during the sale. His younger brother, Ryan, will come from Ontario to watch and support the group.

Raising and loving animals

Kay said her granddaughter Katy had a duck project, but the ducks were eaten before they could be shown.

All we found were feathers, she said.

But mishaps like that are all part of the 4-H learning experience.

Kay said, Kids become attached to the animals that they raise and have to sell. Thats where the leaders and parents come in and help get them through. The kids can be really brokenhearted but the next week theyre thinking about the money theyre going to get or the project they want to have next year.

Many project animals have left impressions on Kay and Gus.

The one you love is the one you have this year. But weve had some that weve been really glad to sell, Kay said.

Kays favorite animal names have been pigs called Bacon Bits and Double Stuff. Her son Bill named his pig Jenny Craig. The animal ended up winning the rate of gain contest that year.

Kay said animals have even been named after Gus.

As Gus explains, My elder daughter went to Fred Warner one year to get her lamb. She was really proud of it and called him Fred. Chris Warner was the same age as her, and he called his animal Gus that year, just because she had called her lamb Fred.

Gus said his favorite animal was one of Corinnas lambs.

It was a loser from day one, but she fell in love with it. It was the poorest looking animal, it wasnt big enough and it didnt win a thing, but it was a good experience for her. She learned a lot from that lamb because she kept with it and went on to be a good showman.

Gus said he also remembers a young lady from Unity who benefited from a tameless steer.

It was wild and it lost weight. She showed it and she didnt place high in the show, but she did place high in my memory because she stuck with it, he said. These are the learning experiences, life experiences, that teach kids to stay in there and keep working.

Kay remembers a bad storm that hit during the sheep show one year.

We just had a make shift roof and it blew off. The parents scrambled but the kids stayed just as cool as cucumbers, she said.

Kay and Gus have watched 4-H change over the years. Kay said there is more paper work and she would rather spend more time with the kids than pouring over record books.

People spend more time decorating, too, Kay said. Its become a kind of competition. That makes it neat for the public.

Kay said one of the biggest challenges of being a leader is trying to find activities to keep children in the fourth through twelfth grades interested and attentive.

She tries to get the older ones to work with the younger ones and said, Its a good social mix; its fun to see the kids grow a little each year in their responsibility.

Gus said the best part of 4-H for him is being able to provide guidance and support to the communitys young people.

I love watching them grow up and, much later, having them come up and talk to me about what it all has meant to them. It makes you feel good youve helped them and theyve got something out of it. Theyre on solid feet, theyre leaders in the community now, and Im glad to have been a part of that.

Gus added, Its been a lot of fun, a really good time and Ive met a world of good friends who have helped me and my family. The people of Baker County have helped us raise our kids and grand-kids and Im grateful to Baker County because they give us so many good experiences.

Gus and Kay said the following families are among the many who deserve recognition and have helped the fair over the years. As Gus puts it, they really did a bang up job and made it tick.

Those families are Miles, Clark, Jacobs, Colton, Witham, Rohner, Calloway, Phillip, Turner, Wilson, Wellman, Cook, Thomas, Barr, Wendt, Bunch, Cockram, Warner, McCullough, and Schoeningh.

If your family would like to get involved with 4-H call the extension office at 523-6418. Kay said there is a 4-H project to fit every person and no experience is necessary. Just learn as you go, she said.